PIONEERING: Sustaining U.S. Leadership in Space

The U.S. space program was created to meet a specific geopolitical challenge more than 50 years ago, during the height of the Cold War. NASA has accomplished many great feats since that time, in spite of being subjected to constantly shifting priorities and mixed signals from Congress and the administration. In the absence of a clear national consensus on the role and function of a space program, a mixture of historical circumstance and political factors have caused NASA’s organizational culture to adopt some behaviors that have held the agency back. To better understand NASA’s situation, the Space Foundation undertook a study to explore NASA’s current state and options for the future.

Based on in-depth historical research and interviews with nearly 100 space leaders, PIONEERING: Sustaining U.S. Leadership in Space addresses issues within the agency and makes recommendations on its governance and funding.

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The most significant recommendation is that NASA should return to its roots and embrace a singular, compelling purpose – pioneering – that leverages the agency’s core strengths and provides clear direction for prioritizing tasks and assigning resources. In addition, the report lays out measures that must be taken to remove or reduce factors that hamper NASA’s ability to orient toward and faithfully execute a clearly defined program.

The Space Foundation believes that pioneering – being among those who first enter a region to open it for use and development by others – creates the foundation for a healthy national civil space enterprise.

PIONEERING: Sustaining U.S. Leadership in Space lays out a “Pioneering Doctrine” that will enable NASA to bring a greater portion of space within the sphere of regular human activity, such as commercial endeavors, research or travel. It calls for a methodical objective-based process, rather than a loose amalgamation of missions, by defining the four phases of space activity in which the agency should engage:

Access – developing the ability to get to and from targeted destinations.
Exploration – learning about the risks and opportunities, particularly through scientific investigation, at those destinations in order to plan for subsequent missions.
Utilization – turning theoretical potential into usable technology that justifies continued, longer-term activity at the destinations.
Transition – handing off the knowledge and capabilities NASA has developed to other government organizations or the private sector for long-term use and development.

It is the Space Foundation’s sincere desire to assist all those who care about NASA. We welcome the opportunity to work together to set NASA on a sustainable, long-term trajectory toward a future that will be even brighter than the agency’s past.

The Space Foundation wishes to thank those who contributed to the report, either by sharing their time or by providing financial support for the research efforts.

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